Vermont GOP Considers Changes to Primary Election Process

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(Host) The entry of an anti-war socialist in the Republican U.S. Senate race is causing GOP Party officials to reconsider ways to restrict who can run as a Republican candidate in the future.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) When retired dairy farmer Fred Tuttle entered the Republican contest for the U. S. Senate six years ago, a lot of GOP officials were very upset. They thought their party’s primary was being hijacked by someone who wasn’t really a Republican. When Tuttle defeated businessman Jack McMullen to win the GOP nomination, it set off a serious discussion within the Party.

Two different approaches were considered: restrict who can vote in the primary by having a voter registration system or take steps to restrict who can run under the Republican banner. This could be done by requiring candidates to receive a certain percentage of votes at the state convention in order to be on September primary ballot.

No action was taken by party officials but now the issue has come roaring back. Landmark College English professor Ben Mitchell, a self-described anti-war socialist who’s affiliated with the Liberty Union Party, has submitted petitions to run in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

GOP chairman Jim Barnett is angered by this development and he feels it’s time for the party to revisit this issue:

(Barnet) “We’re sensitive to the notion that we’re actually going to have candidates running in our primary that don’t share our beliefs. That is antithetical to what the law intends, it’s antithetical to our two- party system and it’s causing, I think, confusion amongst the electorate. And I think it’s time to consider ways that we might be able to bring into effect a system that aligns the party’s nominees and party’s candidates with the party. And I think that will only bring about good things.”

(Kinzel) Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says she understands how the Republicans feel but she thinks it would be a big mistake to restrict who can run for office in Vermont:

(Markowitz) “I do trust the voters in the process and you know I’m pretty conservative about changing the way we run the elections. And I think by and large we benefit from having more liberal and more open laws, permitting more people to get involved in the process.”

(Kinzel) There’s disagreement if the Republicans can implement any changes without legislative approval. Barnet says the party can and he says there are a number of court decisions that back up his position. Markowitz thinks lawmakers must be involved because the state pays the cost of administering all primary elections.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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